The Streaming Wars: Disney Unveils Its Killer App As Others Make Their Moves

Disney+ plants a big flag, but AppleTV+ and others are bringing in huge names (Spielberg! Oprah!). The next phase of The Streaming Wars has officially begun.

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Does streaming TV have a future? That’s the question we asked last September in reference to what some observers had perceived as a streaming bubble. With the proliferation of streaming services and each household only having so much to spend, it seems likely that the bubble would eventually burst, leaving some services to survive while others go by the wayside. At the time, much of the speculation rested on what Disney was going to do. With their acquisition of Fox complete, Disney finally made the official announcement on April 12 of a date, price, and programming for Disney+. And it’s going to be huge. Now that Disney has revealed their killer app (and, quite likely, app killer for a more than a few services), how does this change the picture? And how do more recent additions like DC Universe, the Criterion Channel, and more forthcoming from the likes of Warner Brothers, impact an already volatile system? We look at some of the new permutations emerging in the constantly changing streaming landscape, and make some guesses as to what many consumers might choose — including what might be right for you.

The extended trailer for the DC Universe series, Doom Patrol. (Uploaded to YouTube by DC)

DC Universe: DC Universe, which launched in September is doing . . . okay. The continuation of the much-loved Young Justice animated series, whichwas one of their more anticipated launch titles, received strong reviews and word-of-mouth. But the reaction to the other big launch title, Titans, was more mixed. Numbers in January seemed a bit sluggish, or at least not where the service needs to be. However, the recently added Doom Patrol series is enjoying both critical and fan support, and eagerly awaited debuts like Swamp Thing and Stargirl are coming soon (or maybe not; breaking news on April 17 indicated that production on Swamp Thing was being shut down three episodes early) . Those titles may boost DC Universe’s long-term viability, but right now, it’s working had to assert itself. At $7.99 a month (or a $74.99 annual deal), it’s not a terrible expense, but it needs to continually add content to demonstrate value in the face of its competition.

The Criterion Channel: Following the demise of FilmStruck, Criterion moved their library of remastered classic and important films to its own streaming service. Over 1,500 films and documentaries can be found for a $10.99 monthly subscription (a free 14-day trial is available). If you’re a real fan of cinema, this is a gold mine. David Lynch’s Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and Mulholland Drive are all here, as is Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. A metric ton of Akira Kurosawa is present, and featured categories include Women Filmmakers (featuring artists like Jane Campion and the late Chantal Akerman), and Essential Art House (with the likes of 8-1/2, The Rules of the Game, An Angel at My Table, and The Seventh Seal). As of this writing, the service has only been available for a week, so its overall numbers are unknown; however, it did generate a fair amount of excitement on social media, so it’s possible that it could be a sleeper hit.

Hulu: Hulu’s gone through some changes lately, partially related to Disney’s acquisition of Fox. Previously, Hulu ownership was shared by Disney, Fox, Comcast (through NBCUniversal), and AT&T (through WarnerMedia). AT&T sold its 10 percent back to Hulu on April 15, likely to pay down debt and prepare for their own new streaming offerings. Prior to the sale, that Disney (combined with Fox’s portion) owned 60 percent of Hulu, while Comcast had 30 percent. It’s unknown at this time how the remaining 10 percent will be split, although Disney did previously approach AT&T separately about buying out their stake. While Hulu says that they’ll still run WarnerMedia properties, it’s likely that more of those programs will go to whatever the new WarnerMedia services will be. For their part, Disney, as part of the official Disney+ announcement last week, indicated that more of their mature programming and non-franchise items directed at adults would likely go to Hulu (like the in-development Howard the Duck animated series) as opposed to Disney+. Comcast, on the other hand, is expected to announce a service of their own in 2020; it’s unknown at present if they’ll sell the rest of Hulu to Disney, or simply maintain their present partnership.

Netflix: Netflix took a stock hit after last week’s Disney+ announcement, losing a little over five percent in the two trading days after the unveiling. A pending earnings report could even that out. Aside from that, things aren’t dire for Netflix at the moment. The recent first season of The Umbrella Academy did huge numbers for them, and they have heavy hitters like the third season of Stranger Things and the final season of Orange Is the New Black on deck. Something that will have long-term consequences is the ceding of Marvel properties back to Disney (and Disney+); Netflix has shed (or will shed) its six original Marvel series, and the MCU films will no longer join the service after their theatrical runs. That’s the same story for Star Wars films and series, as well as Disney and Pixar products, too. Granted, there’s a huge entertainment world that isn’t owned by The Mouse, but the reality of this particular cultural moment is that The Mouse is overachieving at the box office. When you can share in that, it helps your brand; when you can’t, it doesn’t.

AppleTV+: One wildcard in all of this is AppleTV+, a new service targeted for fall launch through the AppleTV app. It’s boasting a pretty big roster of talent. Names as big as Oprah, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, Sofia Coppola, M. Night Shyamalan, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Octavia Spencer all have projects forthcoming. The programming slate includes a revival of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, Aniston and Witherspoon’s The Morning Show (which also stars Steve Carell), dystopian drama See (starring Jason Momoa), science fiction drama for All Mankind (from Ronald D. Moore of the acclaimed Battlestar Galactica reboot), and many others. On the kids’ side, the service has deals in place for Peanuts properties and new content from The Children’s Television Workshop. As of this writing, the price hasn’t been confirmed. The full roster of programs in development is substantial, and it might only take one or two solid hits with critics and early adopters to drive the service. Still, the lack of price information or even a specific date (“autumn” seems to be the refrain) takes a little of the wind out of it when you stack it up to Disney+.

Disney+: This much is true: Disney is aiming high with the new service. Set for a November launch, Disney+ will arrive at a $6.99 per month (or $69.99 per year) price point, which definitely undercuts the monthly prices for the three Netflix tiers (they range from $9 to $16 per month). The content library looks to be enormous, as they draw from verticals that include Disney Animation, Pixar, Lucasfilm (that’s Star Wars), Marvel, National Geographic, and Fox. In the presentation on April 11, they suggested that their first year target for the service would be more than 25 new episodic series, more than 10 original movies and specials, over 7,500 past television episodes (including all 30 seasons of The Simpsons), over 400 films from the library, and more than 100 recent films. They have an even more impressive “Year Five” target, which ups the number of television episodes to 10,000 while growing each of the other areas as well.

The content that has generated the most interest and excitement thus far would be the various Marvel and Star Wars offerings. In addition to an animated series based on the fan-favorite What If? comic, Marvel will be producing live-action limited series featuring talent reprising their roles from the uber-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Hawkeye (starring Jeremy Renner), Loki (starring Tom Hiddleston), Falcon & Winter Soldier (starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan), and WandaVision (starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany). On the Star Wars side, the beloved The Clone Wars animated series will get a continuation, and director Jon Favreau will helm a new live-action series called The Mandalorian, which has been described as “Clint Eastwood in space.” Actors Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk will also reprise their Rogue One: A Star Wars Story characters for another live-action series. These announcements brought an incredible amount of buzz to social media, with a first look at The Mandalorian drawing high praise; for their part, the various Marvel shows kicked up major interest because of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s assertion that the “episodes will intersect with the movies in a big way. It’s a totally new form of storytelling that we get to play with and explore.”

On the back of the announcements, Disney’s stock shot up 9.5 percent, which was the best single stock day for Disney since May 2009. CNBC called the forthcoming service a “value winner” in a family viewing context, particularly in comparison to Netflix. Disney CEO Bob Iger made it clear that the low price of the service was designed to attract an audience of millions; he also outlined that the broad strokes of their strategy focus on the widest audiences of kids (Disney+), sports fans (ESPN+, which launched in 2018 and already has over two million subscribers), and adults (Hulu) that they can muster.

If there’s a possible downside to the Disney+ announcement, it’s that there’s a general lack of specifics about the disposition of the vast amount of Fox properties that they just acquired. Are the Aliens films going to Hulu? What about the literally hundreds of films and other franchises that can now be accessed? It may be too early to tell, but that information might actually increase their potential subscriber base. And while the $6.99 launch price is great, one wonders how long Disney will be able to keep the cost that low. Increases seem inevitable, especially when you consider competition and shareholders. A deluge of customers might keep costs low, but it seems that an ambitious slate of content offerings will need to deliver consistently to put a pin in the monthly rate.

Amazon Prime Video $13/month with Prime; $9 video only The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle
AppleTV+ Not yet available Amazing Stories, See, Oprah’s new jam
CBS All Access $6/month with ads; $10 ad-free Star Trek: Discovery, pending Patrick Stewart Star Trek series
The Criterion Collection $11/month or $100 annually Films by Lynch, Kurosawa, Bergman, and more
DC Universe $7.99/month or $74.99 annually Young Justice: Outsiders, Titans
Disney+ $6.99/month or $69.99 annually The Mandalorian, assorted Marvel Cinematic Universe shows
ESPN+ $5/month or $50 annually for basic Full MLB.TV and NHL Hockey seasons for an extra $25/month
HBO Now $15/month Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Little Lies
Hulu $6/month with ads; $12 ad-free The Handmaid’s Tale, Marvel’s Runaways, Veronica Mars reboot
Netflix $9/$13/$16/month for different features Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, The Umbrella Academy

This chart shows a few of the bigger services, their current price points, and some featured offerings.

What’s Next?: WarnerMedia continues to work on a slate of streaming offerings, of which DC Universe is only a small part. Comcast is aiming their service for 2020. Amazon Prime continues to be a player, as they add new programs and acquisitions like the critically acclaimed The Expanse. The net result of all this is fairly clear: there’s not room in the average family budget for every service. Observers note that when push comes to shove, families will likely stick with what is the best value and what has the most offerings for the whole family. That sounds exactly like the target for Disney+. If that service does emerge to become the premiere streamer, with Hulu and Netflix and others vying for second place, what happens to the middle and lower-tier streaming outlets? Like with anything involving television, we’re just going to have to watch and see.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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